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Slovak bishops call for peace after assassination attempt on prime minister

Archbishop Bernard Bober of Košice, chairman of the Slovak Bishops’ Conference, expressed deep regret over the violent incident and condemned what authorities are now treating as an act of attempted murder. / Credit: Marek Mucha/Slovakian Bishops’ Conference

CNA Newsroom, May 16, 2024 / 13:24 pm (CNA).

Following the assassination attempt on Prime Minister Robert Fico on Wednesday, Slovakian bishops have called for peace and unity.

“We must actively work for peace,” Archbishop Bernard Bober of Košice, chairman of the Slovak Bishops’ Conference, said in a statement on May 15.

“It is important that we respect each other and strengthen the good in each of us,” he said, calling on the public to reject all forms of violence and promote the good in people instead.

Bober expressed his deep regret over the violent incident and condemned what authorities are now treating as an act of attempted murder.

The gunman was described as a “lone wolf” who acted out of political hatred against Fico, Slovak news agency SITA reported. The attacker expressed his dissatisfaction with government policy in a video published online before the assassination attempt. He now faces attempted murder charges and life in prison.

On Thursday, Deputy Prime Minister Robert Kalinak said Fico’s condition was still severe and that it was too early to tell if he would recover, Reuters reported.

Bober said in his statement: “I wish the prime minister a speedy recovery and ask the faithful to pray for peace in our homeland and for all citizens of the Slovak Republic,” Bober said in his statement. 

Archbishop Stanislav Zvolensky of Bratislava posted a statement on social media expressing his prayer for Fico’s recovery and healing.

The statement stressed that Zvolensky was appalled by the tragic incident and announced that the archbishop would celebrate Mass at the country’s national shrine in Šaštín.

The basilica in Šaštín was built to honor the image of Our Lady of the Seven Sorrows, a figure so important to the people of Slovakia that Pope Pius XI declared her the country’s patroness in 1927.

The assassination attempt on 59-year-old Fico — who was raised and has described himself as Catholic — has shaken the Catholic-majority country visited by Pope Francis in 2021. 

The prayers and appeals from Slovakian prelates come at a critical time for the country — and wider Europe: The assassination attempt on Fico represents the first public assassination attempt on a European politician in more than 20 years.

The Vatican secretary of state, Cardinal Pietro Parolin, told journalists in an initial reaction on May 15 that he was “truly concerned about what has happened.” Parolin pointed to an apparent increase in politically motivated violence.

Slovakia’s President-elect, Peter Pellegrini, called on political parties to tone down their campaigning before next month’s European Parliament elections, reported CNA Deutsch, CNA’s German-language news partner.

Court says Maryland parents have no right to opt out of LGBTQ curriculum

Parental and religious freedom rights advocates, including a group of Muslim parents, on June 6, 2023, protest a Maryland school system policy that removes parents’ authority to opt their children out of homosexual and transgender coursework. / Credit: The Religious Freedom Institute

CNA Staff, May 16, 2024 / 12:49 pm (CNA).

A federal appeals court on Wednesday ruled that parents in Maryland have no right to be informed when their children are being instructed with LGBTQ materials or to opt their children out of that instruction. 

The legal advocacy group Becket Law, which is representing the parents challenging the Montgomery County Board of Education, said on Wednesday that the 4th Circuit Court of Appeals upheld a lower court’s ruling.

The firms said the ruling means that parents of children enrolled at Montgomery County Public Schools “have no right to be notified or opt their kids out of” materials that teach transgenderism and other sexual ideologies.

Becket, which specializes in religious freedom cases, said the parents had objected to their children being exposed to books that included materials that “champion pride parades, gender transitioning, and pronoun preferences for children.” 

Other books reportedly asked children to locate words such as “underwear” and “leather,” and to explore topics such as “nonbinary” identities, in which individuals believe themselves to be neither male nor female. 

The U.S. District Court for the District of Maryland had originally ruled against the parents in August of last year, arguing in part that the parents “are not pressured into violating their religious beliefs in order to obtain the benefits of a public education.”

The appeals court on Wednesday similarly held, in a divided 2-1 ruling, that the plaintiffs “have not shown a cognizable burden” to the free exercise of their religion. 

There is “no evidence at present that the board’s decision not to permit opt-outs compels the parents or their children to change their religious beliefs or conduct, either at school or elsewhere,” the court argued. 

The plaintiffs did not provide evidence that they have “been asked to affirm views contrary to their views on gender or sexuality, to disavow views on these matters that their religion espouses, or otherwise affirmatively act in violation of their religious belief,” the ruling said. 

Eric Baxter, vice president and senior counsel at Becket, said in a statement after the ruling that the court “told thousands of Maryland parents they have no say in what their children are taught in public schools.” 

“That runs contrary to the First Amendment, Maryland law, the school board’s own policies, and basic human decency,” Baxter argued. 

“Parents should have the right to receive notice and opt their children out of classroom material that violates their faith,” he said. 

Becket will appeal the ruling, Baxter said.

The controversy has united a broad coalition of primarily Muslim, Catholic, and Ethiopian Orthodox Christian parents against the county board of education’s policy. 

Last August, ahead of the district court’s ruling, dozens of parents from various religious faiths rallied outside the Montgomery County federal courthouse in support of the plaintiffs. 

William Haun, senior counsel at Becket, told CNA at the time that “the point of this lawsuit is to restore the ability to give parents notice and opt out.” The school board originally scrapped the opt-out option in March 2023.

“The school board just took [the opt out] away without any public explanation,” Haun said. “The First Amendment protects against arbitrary power, and it protects the right of parents to direct their children’s religious upbringing.”

Lawmakers renew calls to repeal the FACE Act

PAAU activists hold a rally outside Washington Surgi-Clinic in Washington, D.C., May 4, 2022. / Credit: Katie Yoder/CNA

Washington D.C., May 16, 2024 / 12:19 pm (CNA).

As seven pro-lifers were sentenced to years in prison for their efforts to rescue unborn babies from a Washington, D.C., abortion clinic, several lawmakers renewed their calls to repeal the Freedom of Access to Clinic Entrances (FACE) Act. 

Lawmakers are claiming that the FACE Act, which was used to convict and sentence the pro-life activists, is being abused by the Biden Department of Justice to target and punish pro-lifers. 

Here is what’s going on in the pro-life fight this week. 

‘Biden’s two-tiered justice system’ 

After pro-life activist Lauren Handy and several other pro-lifers were sentenced to years in prison this week under the FACE Act, Rep. Chip Roy, R-Texas, called for the measure to be repealed, saying: “It’s time to pull the plug on Biden’s two-tiered justice system.” 

Signed by President Bill Clinton in 1994, the FACE Act prohibits obstructing access to or destruction of abortion clinics, pregnancy centers, or church property. The law has been criticized by several lawmakers for being unevenly applied against pro-life activists.

Roy urged House and Senate Republicans to advance a bill he co-sponsored with Sen. Mike Lee, R-Utah, that would repeal the FACE Act. 

“Today’s outrageous 57-month sentence for a progressive pro-life activist is a stark reminder: Biden’s DOJ is fully weaponized against pro-life American citizens, and they are using the FACE Act to do it,” Roy said.

Meanwhile, Lee said that “unequal enforcement of the law is a violation of the law, and men and women who try to expose the horrors of abortion are being unjustly persecuted for their motivations.” 

“The Biden administration is using the FACE Act to give pro-life activists and senior citizens lengthy prison terms for nonviolent offenses and protests — all while turning a blind eye to the violence, arson, and riots conducted on behalf of ‘approved’ leftist causes,” Lee told the Daily Signal. 

Martin Cannon, an attorney with the Thomas More Society, which represented Handy, told CNA that the Biden DOJ’s “overreach” through the FACE Act will likely “galvanize the pro-life world” and motivate lawmakers to repeal the measure.

Handy received an almost-five-year sentence for being the organizer of the Washington demonstration. In addition to Handy, six other pro-lifers — John Hinshaw, 69, William Goodman, 54, Herb Geraghty, 27, Jonathan Darnel, 42, Jean Marshall, 74, and Joan Bell, 76 — also received FACE Act sentences ranging from 10 months to over two years. 

Arizona Supreme Court blocks law protecting life

The Supreme Court of Arizona on Monday issued a 90-day block on enforcement of the state’s law protecting life at conception. 

This comes after Arizona Gov. Katie Hobbs signed a bill to repeal the pro-life measure on May 2. Though the repeal bill was signed into law it will not take effect until 90 days after the Arizona legislative session ends. 

Dormant since being invalidated by Roe v. Wade in 1973, the pro-life law was originally passed in 1864. The measure protects all unborn life from conception and imposes prison time for those who “provide, supply, or administer” an abortion. 

On April 8, the Arizona high court ruled that since the U.S. Supreme Court overruled Roe in the 2022 Dobbs v. Jackson decision, there were no legal reasons to keep the law from being enforced.

A new constitutional amendment guaranteeing a right to abortion will likely be on the ballot in Arizona this November.

Telehealth abortions now account for 1 in 5 abortions

A new “We Count Report” by the Society of Family Planning found that telehealth abortions accounted for nearly 1 in 5 U.S. abortions toward the end of 2023. 

A telehealth abortion is a chemical abortion administered remotely through an online appointment. 

With an average of 17,000 telehealth abortions per month October through December, the study found that this type of abortion represented 18% of all abortions in October 2023, 19% in November, and 19% in December.

According to the Society of Family Planning, there were an average of 5,800 telehealth abortions per month in states with laws protecting unborn babies at all stages or starting at six weeks. The Society of Family Planning said that the abortions were enabled by abortion “shield laws” protecting providers from prosecution for providing chemical abortion in states where it is prohibited or restricted. 

This follows another Guttmacher Institute report finding that chemical abortions now account for 63% of all U.S. abortions. 

Louisiana may declare abortion pills ‘controlled dangerous substances’ 

The Louisiana House advanced a bill to increase criminal penalties for forcing or coercing women to take abortion pills. The House also added an amendment to declare abortion pills mifepristone and misoprostol “controlled dangerous substances” under the state’s Uniform Controlled Dangerous Substances Law. 

The bill has already been passed by the state Senate and is set for debate on the House floor on May 20. 

Louisiana protects unborn life at all stages of pregnancy through laws banning surgical and chemical abortion. Louisiana allows exceptions for abortion in cases when the mother’s life or health is at risk and when the unborn child is not expected to survive the pregnancy. 

Italian actor Roberto Benigni to join Pope Francis for World Children’s Day

Pope Francis meets with Italian actor Roberto Benigni on Dec. 7, 2022. / Credit: Vatican Media

Rome Newsroom, May 16, 2024 / 11:49 am (CNA).

Pope Francis will be joined by Italian actor Roberto Benigni and soccer star Gianluigi Buffon as the pontiff celebrates World Children’s Day over the last weekend in May.

The Vatican announced on Thursday that World Children’s Day will “kick off” on Saturday, May 25, at 3:30 p.m. with a soccer match between kids and professional soccer players in Rome’s Olympic Stadium led by Buffon, the goalie who helped Italy achieve victory in the 2006 World Cup.

On the second day of the event, Benigni, best known for his Oscar-winning film “Life Is Beautiful,” will give a short speech at the end of Pope Francis’ Mass and Angelus address in St. Peter’s Square on Sunday, May 26. 

World Children’s Day is a new initiative by Pope Francis sponsored by the Vatican’s Dicastery for Culture and Education in collaboration with the Catholic community of Sant’Egidio, the Auxilium Cooperative, and the Italian Football Federation. 

The Vatican is expecting children from more than 100 countries to travel to Rome for the weekend event with the pope.

When Pope Francis first announced the establishment of World Children’s Day in December 2023, he said: “Like Jesus, we want to put children at the center and care for them.”

According to Vatican News, Pope Francis was inspired to create World Children’s Day by a 9-year-old boy named Alessandro who proposed the idea to the pope to have an international event like World Youth Day (an international gathering for young people ages 16 to 35) for younger children.

The two-day event will culminate with Mass for the solemnity of the Most Holy Trinity with the pope in St. Peter’s Square at 10:30 a.m. on May 26.

Franciscan Father Enzo Fortunato is organizing World Children’s Day for the Vatican. He said the goal is to “look at the world through the eyes of children, who are the hope of the people, their future.”

“I publicly thank Roberto Benigni and all those who have decided to work and donate their time and talent to children all over the world,” he added.

Chiara Corbella’s beatification cause to take a step forward in June

Servant of God Chiara Corbella Petrillo. / Credit: Christian Gennari/chiaracorbellapetrillo.it

Rome Newsroom, May 16, 2024 / 10:08 am (CNA).

Servant of God Chiara Corbella Petrillo, the joyful young mother who died of cancer in 2012, will be one step closer next month to being declared a saint.

The Diocese of Rome announced Wednesday that it will hold the closing session of the diocesan phase of her cause for beatification on Friday, June 21, at noon in the Archbasilica of St. John Lateran.

Since her death at the age of 28, Corbella has inspired many by her witness to faith and joy amid suffering and loss.

Corbella met her husband, Enrico Petrillo, at the age of 18 while on a pilgrimage to Međugorje. They married six years later in Assisi on Sept. 21, 2008. 

Within the first two years of their marriage, Chiara and Enrico suffered the death of two children, both of whom died less than an hour after birth.

Their first child, Maria Grazia Letizia, was diagnosed in utero with anencephaly, a serious birth defect in which a baby is born without parts of the brain or skull. Chiara chose to carry the baby to term and her daughter lived just long enough to be baptized in the hospital, dying within a half hour of her birth in June 2009.

During her second pregnancy, ultrasounds revealed that her son had no legs or kidneys. Baby Davide Giovanni died in June 2010 after living for 38 minutes. 

The couple chose to share their testimony about the few minutes that they were able to spend with their children at pro-life events in Italy. They also underwent genetic testing that revealed no pathological risk to their future children.

“The Lord gave us two special children: Maria Grazia Letizia and Davide Giovanni, but he asked us to accompany them only until their birth. He gave us the opportunity to embrace them, have them baptized, and then entrust them into the hands of the Father, all with a peace and joy that we had never experienced before,” Chiara recounted.

Corbella became pregnant for a third time with their son Francesco in 2010 and ultrasounds showed that he was in perfect health. The joyful news was short-lived as Chiara was diagnosed with cancer. Doctors removed a tumor on her tongue that turned out to be cancerous.

Chiara rejected any form of treatment that posed a risk to her unborn son, prioritizing his life over her own. Her healthy baby boy was born on May 30, 2011.

As the cancer metastasized, it became difficult for Chiara to speak and see clearly. A photo of her wearing an eye patch with a big smile was taken in April 2012, less than two weeks after she learned that her condition was terminal. She prepared for death by receiving the Blessed Sacrament daily. 

In a letter that Chiara wrote to their son Francesco, she recalled the line from the Gospel: “My yoke is easy, and my burden is light.”

Her husband, Enrico, has recounted how he asked Chiara about this not long before she died. He shared her response in a speech in St. Peter’s Square in 2016. 

“I asked her: ‘Chiara, is this cross really sweet like the Lord says?’ She smiled at me, and with a frail voice replied: ‘Yes, Enrico. It is very sweet.’”

Chiara died on June 13, 2012, at home in her wedding gown, surrounded by her family and friends, one year after her son was born.

Corbella’s cause for canonization was announced on June 13, 2017, the fifth anniversary of her death.

Her parents were invited to tell her story at the 2023 World Youth Day in Lisbon, where they shared that Corbella’s son Francesco is 11 years old and inspired by his mother’s witness.

With the closing of the diocesan investigation into Corbella’s life, virtues, and sanctity, the documented testimonies and other materials for her cause for beatification will be sealed and sent to the Vatican’s Dicastery for the Causes of Saints for further scrutiny.

The next step in the process will be for the pope to recognize her as someone who lived a life of heroic virtue and declare her venerable. 

Corbella will need two miracles attributed to her intercession to be declared a saint. 

Hallow Summit strives to ‘facilitate an encounter with the Lord’

Attendees at the first Hallow Summit in 2022. / Credit: Hallow

CNA Staff, May 16, 2024 / 06:00 am (CNA).

The popular Catholic prayer and meditation app Hallow recently announced its third annual Hallow Summit, which brings the platform’s digital community together for an in-person encounter with the Lord.

This year’s summit will take place Aug. 2–4 at Franciscan University of Steubenville in Ohio. Attendees will take part in prayer and worship, Mass, Eucharistic adoration, confession, and listen to Q&As and talks from speakers including Jeff Cavins, Dr. Scott Hahn, Matt and Cameron Fradd, Chika Anyanwu, Jonathan Roumie, and more. 

Attendees at the first Hallow Summit in 2022. Credit: Hallow
Attendees at the first Hallow Summit in 2022. Credit: Hallow

Bryan Enriquez, head of customer operations and founding team member of Hallow, told CNA in an interview that the first Hallow Summit, which took place in 2022, was launched as a test. 

“Up until that point, we had just focused on the digital experience of the Hallow app,” he said. “We had no idea if that would translate into an ability for us to host a high quality in-person experience.”

He noted that upon his own reflection, he realized that “some of my most powerful spiritual experiences had happened at retreats or conferences,” adding: “There is something special about a ‘mountaintop’ experience that jolts you out of your routine and creates an opportunity to draw closer to God with a new way of seeing the world.”

“I wanted to create an experience that combined the mountaintop experience with a practical roadmap for how to continue to engage with God after the event was over. Thus, the Hallow Summit was born.”

The theme for this year’s Hallow Summit is “Prayer and Surrender.”

Enriquez shared that the team wants participants to “reflect on the power of surrendering ourselves to the will of God.” 

“This is not easy and in our culture surrender has a negative connotation,” he added. “However, after our Lenten reflection on ‘He Leadeth Me’ by Father Walter Ciszek, we saw that this idea resonates with a lot of people.”

“We want attendees to have an encounter with Christ so that the Lord can reveal what parts of their hearts need his healing. The way to do this is through prayer and meditation. Our job is to provide an atmosphere that is conducive to this.”

He emphasized that the whole point of the summit is to “facilitate an encounter with the Lord.”

“One way we do that is by pairing talks with experiences. We don’t just have keynote addresses where someone talks at you for an hour,” he explained. “Instead, our keynotes combine talking with doing. We pair them with a spiritual exercise such as lectio divina or the examen to emphasize how accessible and powerful these techniques are.”

Alex Jones, CEO and co-founder of Hallow, speaks at the Hallow Summit in 2022. Credit: Hallow
Alex Jones, CEO and co-founder of Hallow, speaks at the Hallow Summit in 2022. Credit: Hallow

While the atmosphere at previous summits has always been joy-filled, Enriquez pointed out that there is also “an energy of Christ-centered fellowship,” which he believes is part of Hallow’s brand.

“We are known for being approachable yet profound, and I think that translates into the experiences we host in person as well,” he expressed. “We don’t water down our content but we don’t want to turn anyone away from experiencing the power of prayer.”

Beacon of faith: Lebanese town builds giant floating rosary at sea

Joe Abdel Sater, a swimming instructor in the seaside town of Bouar, Lebanon, built the world's largest rosary on the ocean. With the help of family and friends, his vision took shape and was launched on May 11, 2024, during the feast of Our Lady of the Seas. / Credit: Joe Abdel Sater

ACI MENA, May 16, 2024 / 05:00 am (CNA).

A Lebanese Catholic man has created a giant rosary that floats upon the Mediterranean waves.

Joe Abdel Sater, a swimming instructor in the seaside town of Bouar, built the world’s largest rosary on the ocean on May 11 — with the help of family and friends — on the feast of Our Lady of the Seas.

Joe Abdel Sater, a swimming instructor in the seaside town of Bouar, Lebanon, built the world's largest rosary on the ocean. With the help of family and friends, his vision took shape and was launched on May 11, 2024, during the feast of Our Lady of the Seas. Credit: Joe Abdel Sater
Joe Abdel Sater, a swimming instructor in the seaside town of Bouar, Lebanon, built the world's largest rosary on the ocean. With the help of family and friends, his vision took shape and was launched on May 11, 2024, during the feast of Our Lady of the Seas. Credit: Joe Abdel Sater

The idea came to Abdel Sater during his daily contemplation of the sea.

For six months, he perceived the outlining of rosary beads on the water’s surface. Compelled to make this vision a reality, he received blessings from the local parish priest, Father Ferez Tawk, and from the mayor. However, executing such an ambitious undertaking was no easy feat.

“For a month, I puzzled over what materials to use — wood or foam?” Abdel Sater recalled. “How could I secure the rosary’s shape against the shifting currents?” But, as he put it, “divine providence facilitated things.”

An illuminated icon on the waves

Stretching 100 meters (about 330 feet) across the water, the finished rosary is comprised of white plastic gallon jugs representing the Hail Mary beads and larger blue ones for the Our Father prayers. The cross is made of wood.

“I dove down and tied the beads with rope, anchoring them to the rocks below,” Abdel Sater explained to ACI Mena, CNA’s Arabic-language news partner. “So despite the changing tides, the rosary’s form remained intact.”

Outfitted with lights, the installation casts a luminous glow at night.

Though forced to temporarily move it ashore due to rough waters, Abdel Sater hopes to soon re-float his unprecedented creation, which he has submitted for inclusion into the Guinness Book of World Records.

Joe Abdel Sater, a swimming instructor in the seaside town of Bouar, Lebanon, built the world's largest rosary on the ocean. With the help of family and friends, his vision took shape and was launched on May 11, 2024, during the feast of Our Lady of the Seas. Credit: Joe Abdel Sater
Joe Abdel Sater, a swimming instructor in the seaside town of Bouar, Lebanon, built the world's largest rosary on the ocean. With the help of family and friends, his vision took shape and was launched on May 11, 2024, during the feast of Our Lady of the Seas. Credit: Joe Abdel Sater

A community united

For the Parish of Sts. Takla and John, the floating rosary provided a centerpiece for celebrating the feast of Our Lady of the Seas on May 11. As Tawk explained: “We gathered parishioners to offer a Mass giving thanks to Our Blessed Mother. This endeavor symbolizes our Eastern Catholic devotion to Mary.”

Reflecting on the profound symbolism, Tawk noted that “alone, rosary beads lose their meaning. As Catholic faithful, we’re those beads and our community binds us together through life’s crashing waves.”

Joe Abdel Sater, a swimming instructor in the seaside town of Bouar, Lebanon, built the world's largest rosary on the ocean. With the help of family and friends, his vision took shape and was launched on May 11, 2024, during the feast of Our Lady of the Seas. Credit: Joe Abdel Sater
Joe Abdel Sater, a swimming instructor in the seaside town of Bouar, Lebanon, built the world's largest rosary on the ocean. With the help of family and friends, his vision took shape and was launched on May 11, 2024, during the feast of Our Lady of the Seas. Credit: Joe Abdel Sater

“Without that communion, even the strongest believer can be swept away,” Tawk said. “But by walking together with Jesus as our anchor, we can withstand any storm and find redemption. Thus, we become like Mary, who stood firm in her faith under the cross, understanding that Jesus’ sacrifice is the beginning of salvation.”

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This article was originally published by ACI Mena, CNA's Arabic-language news partner, and has been translated and adapted by CNA.

Elderly pro-life activist sentenced to over two years in prison under FACE Act

Pro-life activist Joan Andrews Bell listens during a news conference on the five fetuses found inside the home where she and other anti-abortion activists were living on Capitol Hill at a news conference at the Hyatt Regency on April 5, 2022, in Washington, D.C. / Credit: Anna Moneymaker/Getty Images

Washington D.C., May 15, 2024 / 18:40 pm (CNA).

Joan Andrews Bell, a 76-year-old Catholic and pro-life activist, has been sentenced to over two years in prison for her involvement in a “rescue” at a Washington, D.C., abortion clinic. 

In addition to Bell, three other activists — Jean Marshall, 74, Jonathan Darnel, 42, and Herb Geraghty, 27 — were sentenced on Wednesday. Marshall received a 24-month sentence, Darnel was sentenced to 34 months, and Geraghty received 27 months.

The sentences were given by U.S. District Judge Colleen Kollar-Kotelly. 

According to Terrisa Bukovinac, another pro-life activist who has been posting updates from the courtroom, Bell’s family “cried tears of joy that the sentence wasn’t longer,” while Marshall provided a doctor’s note indicating that she needs a hip replacement due to extreme osteoporosis.

The three were charged with felony crimes involving conspiracy against rights and violating the federal Freedom of Access to Clinic Entrances Act, also known as the FACE Act. According to the Department of Justice, the three activists engaged in a conspiracy to create a blockade of an abortion clinic.

This comes nearly nine months after Bell and eight other pro-life activists were convicted on felony charges of conspiracy against rights and violation of the Freedom of Access to Clinic Entrances (FACE) Act for their involvement in an October 2020 rescue at the Washington Surgi-Clinic run by Dr. Cesare Santangelo.

According to a previous DOJ statement, the activists involved in the rescue used “physical obstruction to injure, intimidate, and interfere with the clinic’s employees and a patient because they were providing or obtaining reproductive health services.”

The DOJ also said the activists “forcefully entered the clinic and set about blockading two clinic doors using their bodies, furniture, chains, and ropes.”

On Tuesday three other activists — Lauren Handy, 30, John Hinshaw, 69, and William Goodman, 54 — also received sentences ranging from nearly five years to just under two years for the same demonstration. Handy received the harshest sentence, four years and nine months, for her role as the organizer.

Martin Cannon, an attorney with the Thomas More Society, which represented Handy, told CNA that they will likely be appealing “most if not all” of the sentences. Any appeals in these cases would go to the Court of Appeals for the D.C. Circuit. 

“Right now, they’re all convicted felons and that’s worth fighting over,” Cannon said. 

Cannon said he is optimistic they will be able to lessen the sentences. He also pointed out that these cases, especially the sentencing of elderly women and men to years in prison, will bring attention to how the FACE Act is being abused to target pro-lifers. 

He said that the pro-life activists are not discouraged, despite their sentences. 

“I think that this overreach by the federal government, the conviction of these people, is …  going to galvanize people,” he said. “It certainly has not discouraged our clients. It is going to galvanize the pro-life world and give it energy.”

Catholic Church responds to mental health crisis across the U.S. and globally

“Woman of the Well” paintings by Glenda Stevens are being distributed to each of the 15 deaneries in the Diocese of Phoenix. / Credit: Brett Meister/Diocese of Phoenix

CNA Staff, May 15, 2024 / 18:20 pm (CNA).

The percentage of U.S. adults diagnosed with depression has risen almost 10% since 2015, reaching 29% according to a 2023 Gallup poll, and data from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention shows that almost half of U.S. teens report experiencing persistent sadness and hopelessness. The Catholic Church is responding.

Following a 2023 U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops initiative, Catholics across the country have been working in their local communities to address the mental health crisis. 

In the Archdiocese of Washington, Auxiliary Bishop Evelio Menjivar offered a May 11 Mass for people with mental health challenges.

“Those living with a mental illness should never bear these burdens alone, nor should their families who struggle heroically to assist their loved ones,” the bishop said at the Mass in Landover Hills, Maryland, according to a report by the Catholic Standard.

“We Christians must encounter them, accompany them, comfort them, include them, and help bear their burdens in solidarity with them, offering our understanding, prayers, and tangible, ongoing support,” he noted. 

In Emmitsburg, Maryland, the National Shrine of St. Elizabeth Ann Seton is hosting a Mental Wellness Retreat under the patronage of St. Dymphna, whose feast day is May 30. (Traditionally, the feast day of the young saint who is patron of the abused and mentally ill was May 15.)

Participants in the Mental Wellness Retreat at the National Shrine of St. Elizabeth Ann Seton in Emmitsburg, Maryland, listen to a reflection at the shrine’s basilica. Credit: Seton Shrine
Participants in the Mental Wellness Retreat at the National Shrine of St. Elizabeth Ann Seton in Emmitsburg, Maryland, listen to a reflection at the shrine’s basilica. Credit: Seton Shrine

“We are hoping to reach people who live with their own mental health challenges and their loved ones,” Melissa Freymann, a clinical mental health therapist who is organizing the retreat in her role as a mental health ministry consultant for the archdiocese, told CNA

Out west, St. Patrick Catholic Community Parish in Scottsdale, Arizona, is hosting a mental health fair May 18–19 in honor of the feast of St. Dymphna.

The Diocese of Phoenix’s Office of Mental Health Ministry will attend the fair, according to The Catholic Sun. At the fair, the St. Patrick community will bless a “Woman of the Well” painting by Glenda Stevens and display it in their “House of Mercy” building. The diocese hopes to use the biblical image of the well where Jesus met the Samaritan woman as a designated place of encounter to gather and grow together. 

Parishes in 15 different deaneries each received a “Woman of the Well” painting for their mental health ministry space known as “The Well,” according to a spokesperson for the Diocese of Phoenix.

Bishop John Dolan of the Diocese of Phoenix presents a “Woman of the Well” painting by Glenda Stevens to Father Israel Boadi. Dolan is the chaplain of the Association of Catholic Mental Health  Ministers. Credit: Brett Meister/Diocese of Phoenix
Bishop John Dolan of the Diocese of Phoenix presents a “Woman of the Well” painting by Glenda Stevens to Father Israel Boadi. Dolan is the chaplain of the Association of Catholic Mental Health Ministers. Credit: Brett Meister/Diocese of Phoenix

“The Well is adesignated space or room at a parish or school that is a safe space, a place of encounter for those experiencing challenges to gather and share their experiences and grow their relationship with God: a place for support groups, educational workshops, and opportunity for accompaniment,” explained Brett Meister, director of communications for the diocese.

The Diocese of Phoenix also recently offered its second annual “Green Mass” on May 5 honoring and praying for professionals, caregivers, and clergy who serve people with mental health concerns. The Mass brought social workers, pastoral caregivers, and counselors together at Sts. Simon and Jude Cathedral, where volunteers handed out green ribbons to represent growth and new beginnings, as well as St. Dymphna prayer cards, according to The Catholic Sun

Global outreach

Ministering to people who suffer with mental illness and those who live and care for them spans not just the U.S. but also places like the Vatican, South Africa, and India.

The India chapter of the Catholic Association of Mental Health Ministers (CMHM) organized its first ever National Mental Health conference at Nirjhari Conference Center, Carmelaram in Bengaluru, Karnataka, from April 5–6. 

More than 250 participants from all over India attended the Catholic Association of Mental Health Ministers’ first mental health conference in India at the Nirjhari conference center at Carmelaram in Bengaluru, Karnataka, April 5–6, 2024. Credit: Photo courtesy of CMHM
More than 250 participants from all over India attended the Catholic Association of Mental Health Ministers’ first mental health conference in India at the Nirjhari conference center at Carmelaram in Bengaluru, Karnataka, April 5–6, 2024. Credit: Photo courtesy of CMHM

The CMHM India worked with the Catholic Bishops’ Conference of India’s health care commission to host the retreat, which highlighted the state of mental health in India, the role of the Church in mental health ministry, and the difference between spiritual and mental health. 

More than 250 attendees, including priests, religious sisters, and medical professionals gathered for the event, and speakers included Archbishop Peter Machado of Bangalore; Bishop Thomas Tharayil, the ecclesiastical adviser of CMHM India; and Deacon Ed Shoener, co-founder and president of CMHM.

Deacon Ed Shoener, president and co-founder of the Catholic Association of Mental Health Ministers (CMHM), lights a candle for the inaugural ceremony of India’s first CMHM conference April 5–6, 2024. Credit: Photo courtesy of CMHM
Deacon Ed Shoener, president and co-founder of the Catholic Association of Mental Health Ministers (CMHM), lights a candle for the inaugural ceremony of India’s first CMHM conference April 5–6, 2024. Credit: Photo courtesy of CMHM

Shoener helped to found CMHM to build mental health ministries in the Catholic Church in 2019 after his daughter, Katie, who struggled with bipolar disorder, died by suicide in 2016.

“The conference in India demonstrates the worldwide need for mental health ministry,” Shoener told CNA in an email.

In January, Shoener attended a Vatican mental health conference, the first of its kind. Mental health ministers from around the world, including Moldova, India, and South Africa, gathered with Vatican officials to discuss pastoral care and accompaniment.

“Regardless of cultural differences, mental illness impacts every community, and Christ wants his Church to be there to accompany people without fear or stigma,” Shoener noted.

This story was updated on May 16, 2024, at 12:22 p.m. ET with the information on the Diocese of Phoenix’s “The Well.”

Church in Mexico wins lawsuit filed by ‘trans’ person seeking baptismal record change

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ACI Prensa Staff, May 15, 2024 / 17:34 pm (CNA).

A Mexican court has ruled in favor of the Diocese of Querétaro, located in the north-central region of the country, in a lawsuit filed by a person who identifies as transgender and demanded that the diocese change the sex indicated on the church’s baptismal certificate and registry.

According to Tomás Henríquez, director of the Latin American and Caribbean division of Alliance Defending Freedom (ADF) International — an organization that helped the diocese in this case — the complaint, filed for the first time in 2021, demanded that the Catholic Church change the baptismal record “so that it reflects the person’s claim to be a woman instead of a man.”

In a May 14 interview with ACI Prensa, CNA’s Spanish-language news partner, Henríquez explained that the Catholic Church refused to make the change due to “the immutable doctrine of the Church regarding the constitution of the person as a man, as a woman, who has been created that way by God.”

Faced with the Church’s refusal, the complaining party turned to Mexico’s National Data Protection Institute (INAI), a federal agency in charge of adjudicating claims of data protection violations, which issued an order requiring the Diocese of Querétaro to carry out the requested change.

The religious institution challenged this decision with the legal support of ADF International, and the INAI decision was annulled by a federal district court. That ruling was then appealed by the complainant to the 22nd circuit of Federal Collegial Court of Appeals, which ruled in favor of the Diocese of Querétaro.

The case was then taken to the Supreme Court of Justice of the Nation (SCJN), Mexico’s highest federal court.

Henríquez explained that the SCJN “refused” to take the case, “noting that it had already given sufficient guidelines within its jurisprudence to resolve the matter.”

“With that, the appeals court ruling in favor of the Church stands, based on arguments of autonomy of religious institutions,” he said.

The ADF International official also highlighted that this ruling backs the “autonomy of religious institutions” based on articles 24 and 130 of the Political Constitution of Mexico as well as the international agreements that the country has signed, in which “the churches are guaranteed that they will have the freedom to direct their internal affairs freely and without arbitrary interference on the part of the state.”

Henríquez said that in the defense for the Diocese of Querétaro it was argued that “baptismal records have no other functionality or objective than to allow the Church to keep reliable historical records of the administration of the sacraments.”

The ADF director warned that if the state “obligated, forced” the modification of records, it would have been “interfering with the internal government of the Church, which ended up being inadmissible.”

For the expert, this case is fundamental, because it shows that “even understanding the existence of a so-called right to gender identity, this does not grant one the right to impose oneself on the Church with the claim to have to be recognized as a woman in circumstances where that person’s constitution is masculine.”

Other cases in Latin America

This is not an isolated event. In Latin America, similar cases have arisen, such as that of a “trans” person who demanded that the Archdiocese of Salta, Argentina, change the person’s baptism and confirmation records.

In that case, the Supreme Court of the Nation of Argentina rejected the demand and ruled that the Catholic Church is protected from this type of lawsuit due to the separation of church and state and the autonomy of religious organizations.

Similar situations have also been recorded in Bolivia and Chile, which is why Henríquez stressed that these cases are important “by marking a trend at the regional level about how the courts of justice have dealt with” the issue of sacramental records in the Catholic Church in face of lawsuits from “trans” people.

“Beyond the requests of individuals who demand this modification of baptismal records, I believe that it reveals an intention, ultimately, to subjugate the Church and the churches,” the jurist warned, seeking to “subject the Church to the will of the claimant and in turn, or by extension, to that of the state.”

This story was first published by ACI Prensa, CNA’s Spanish-language news partner. It has been translated and adapted by CNA.